Wooing a Super Affiliate over drinks and dinner with offers of significantly higher-than-advertised commission rates and exclusive landing pages will definitely get their attention.
And showering them with free product samples (especially if they're expensive) is fairly effective too.
However, wining and dining alone will not guarantee that the heavy hitters will join your program.
Even if your product is a fabulous fit for the affiliate's audience and your commission rates are more generous than your competitor's, no Super Affiliate will send copious amounts of targeted traffic (read their highly valued subscribers with whom they've worked hard to develop loyal and lasting relationships) to your site unless it first passes their Merchant Site Test.
The Merchant Site Test evaluates many aspects of the site from both the affiliate's and a visitor's perspective.
I personally start with factors that will affect a visitors' experience, and keep the following questions in mind as I peruse a merchant's site for the first time.
Does the site load quickly or does the server bog down under graphic-laden pages? If there is a Flash homepage, is there an obvious ‘skip intro' link or am I forced to watch the video to the bitter end? Is the site attractive and professional in appearance or are there broken links, graphics, and scripting errors? Is the sales page comprehensive and well written; or is it fraught with spelling and grammatical errors or ‘holes' in the sales copy?
I also check to see whether the site uses excessive newsletter signup popups or advertising fly-ins. Do site preview popups such as Snap Shots block my view of the text each time I cursor over a link? Does a new window open every time I click a link? Although I may understand a merchant's motivation for using such tactics, I am more concerned that visitors to the site will find such intrusions confusing and/or annoying to the point that they are likely to exit the site and kill any chance of a sale.
Appearance, functionality and copy rarely pose problems with professionally designed and maintained sites. Nor are they an issue for Clickbank affiliates who can code links to send traffic directly to the order form.
However, having to bypass a merchant's homepage means that pay per click arbitrage isn't an option for some affiliates, while others will have to write sales copy rather than a product review. Although some affiliates may be willing to make that effort to promote one exceptional product, most will pass on the program if the merchant offers a diverse or large selection of goods.
Another significant factor to evaluate is search functionality.
Visitors must be able to search for and find what they want quickly and easily.
For example, does a clothing site let visitors drill-down to choose between designers, color and function; or does a click on the ‘Dresses' link slowly load a page that displays fifty thumbnails of cocktail, evening and wedding dresses?
If visitors can find products with ease, good affiliates will then confirm that the order process is functional, intuitive and secure.
- Are shipping policies and prices easy to locate or does a customer have to go through the entire order process to determine the cost to ship to Canada or if GST and PST will be added to her order?
- Can the customer ship to an address different from the billing address?
- Can she have that dress gift-wrapped for her cousin in Amsterdam?
What happens if our customer has questions about either the product or her order?
- Is there a sizing guide?
- A customer FAQ?
- Does the site offer order tracking?
- Is there a contact link, Live Help badge or telephone number displayed on every page to offer support?
I'd be thrilled to see all except the last item on that list, as a prominently posted telephone number that encourages phone orders means that potential commissions will be lost through ‘traffic leakage'.
Traffic leakage occurs at any point on a site that allows visitors to leave the site without making a purchase through the affiliate's link.
Affiliates that pay for traffic are particularly sensitive to this problem, and most affiliates will not join a merchant's affiliate program if there is any leakage at all.
Phone orders must therefore be tracked to the referring affiliate – which does not mean asking your customers from which site they originated. Merchants who aren't equipped with the technical wizardry to track phone orders should allow affiliates to send their traffic to a version of the site that does not post a phone number and trust that their Super Affiliates' promotional efforts will more than make up for any sales that may be lost by doing so.
Most traffic leaks occur when merchants link to other sites that may be of interest to their visitors or to partner sites with which they have reciprocal link agreements. Traffic leakage also occurs when a merchant with two or more online stores links to those other sites without compensating affiliates for sales from any and all of their stores.
The most offensive type of outbound link traffic leaks are affiliate or contextual advertising links (i.e. Google Adwords ads) from which the merchant hopes to profit. Most affiliates consider this practice more ‘traffic theft' than traffic leakage and will not only not join the program, they will also warn other affiliates of the merchant's commission-stealing practices.
Here is an example of one popular merchant that places advertising on their their sites… which is why I don't direct paid traffic to their review page on my blog.
That's not to say that as a merchant that you shouldn't promote other merchant's products.
But do it on the back end or from within the secure area of your site, only after your own affiliates have had a fair chance to earn a commission for sending traffic to your site.
As you can see, the Merchant Site Test is comprehensive and Super Affiliates are picky to the nth degree!
If any aspect of the site misses the bar, most Super Affiliates will go on to consider a competitor's offer and promote their products without so much as a TYBNTY (thank-you-but-no-thank-you) note for your time and treats.
And if you're lucky enough to have a Super Affiliate take time from their busy promotional schedule (or lounge chair) to explain why they've chosen not to join your program, consider implementing their recommendations as soon as possible – and let them know as soon as the changes have been made.
Don't stop there.
Visit a web developer's forum and ask for feedback about your site. Ask your site visitors for their comments and suggestions as well. Check the affiliate networks for clues about what your competitors are doing right. For example, ask yourself how a merchant that pays only 8 percent commissions have an EPC that is triple that of the merchant who pays 12 percent? Do your own Merchant Site Test to find out why affiliates love to promote their program.
Getting just one Super Affiliate on board can substantially increase a program's earnings.
The first Super Affiliate in a program will generally use this advantage to heavily advertise the site or product using pay-per-click.
As other Super Affiliates join the program and competition between affiliates increases, most will rise to the challenge and step up their promotional efforts using a diverse array of creative methods. Exposure to both the product and the affiliate program tend to increase exponentially at that point – which makes for very happy merchants and managers.
When you design your sales site with a view to building long-term relationships with your site visitors and potential Super Affiliates, you too can get that kind of happy – perhaps even rich.
This article was originally published in Revenue Magazine.
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